Dotty fabric boxes – and a mini tutorial

I started my late-night sewing session last night, intending to make more items for the Facebook auction. But instead I felt compelled to make these fabric boxes for myself. 

Two fabric boxes with brown dot print

Aren’t they pretty? I’m particularly happy about the bit of lining fabrics showing from the outside.

I had been wanting to use these brown and blue / mint green dot fabrics for some time. They are rather pricey, 55% linen, 45% cotton fabric. They have a delicious texture, and the faded-looking colors are just beautiful.

 

large fabric boxes - liningsI love how the blue color of the stripe fabric matches the color of the blue dots. I couldn’t find a suitable stripe fabric for the green version though, so I used solid green cotton.

But why was I suddenly compelled to make these boxes, you ask?

fabric boxes with masking tapes and fabric tapes insideTo put all the fabric and masking tapes I acquired yesterday, of course!

It’s a great size for keeping any little things organised around your office or workroom. Would you like to make one for yourself? It’s easy to make. Here’s a simple mini tutorial for you. This will make a box about 4.25″ wide x 4.5″ high.

DIY fabric box mini tutorial

 

 

I found that the way I made these boxes created a bit of “waste,” because you are left with 8 pieces of perfectly good 4″ square bits of fabric (four for the main and four for the lining). I was going to put those away in my scrap drawer, when I had a brilliant (or pretty obvious?) idea. I could make another box using those bits!

small fabric boxes with brown dot fabric

How cute are these little boxes?

small fabric boxes with brown dot fabric - bottom view

I joined the four 4″ square pieces together like a band, and stitched them onto a square bottom (I used heavy-duty cotton canvas in white – another leftover bits from making larger bags). I did the same for the lining, and then put the main and lining boxes together.

large and small fabric boxes with blue dots

You see the little ones are definitely smaller, but still a very useful size.

large and small fabric boxes - family portrait

They look a little like my family – two parents and two kids. Organization is not my strength – just ask anyone who has been to my embarrassingly messy sewing room. But I’m hoping that these boxes will steer me in the right direction.

 

Tutorial: Mother’s Day apron

My mother loves aprons. She adores them so much that she wears them pretty much all the time at home. I haven’t worn an apron myself since my pastry chef days, but doesn’t it look cute on my mother? This is the apron I made for Mother’s Day this year (along with a few placemats using the same fabric), using a lovely cotton linen blend canvas from Japan with drawings of vegetables on it.

mothers' day apron

 

Are you an apron fan? Or maybe your mother is? Then it’s really easy to make, even without a proper pattern. Just use whatever apron you already have and like, and make a pattern from it – I’ll show you how.

Step 1: Copy a pattern from your favorite apron.

Press your favorite apron well, and place flat on a large piece of paper. I’m using a thin tissue paper for pattern tracing, which you can buy at a sewing supply shop. You can use any large piece of paper you have, of course, but having this semi-transparency helps in the step below. 

making an apron pattern from an existing apron

First, make sure there is enough blank space on the paper around the apron, to add seam allowance later. Then trace all the way around the apron with a pen or pencil.

tracing around the apron

Next, you are going to clean up those lines you just traced. Fold the marked pattern vertically in half (fold along the dotted “center fold line” on the diagram below), more or less matching the left and right sides together. See, this step is easier to do if you used the semi-tranparent paper.

Chances are the lines for the left side don’t exactly match the lines for the right side, because your apron has been worn and washed many times, and it has lost the original sharp, symmetrical lines.

apron pattern making diagram 1

With the draft pattern folded, re-draw neat, straight lines over your original tracing, using a ruler (except for the armhole curves). Make sure (1) the top hem line and the bottom hem line are aligned parallel to each other, (2) the two straight sides are parallel to each other, and that (3) the straight sides are at 90 degrees from the bottom hem line. Basically, if you extend the side seam and top hem lines till they meet, the apron outline should be a perfect rectangle shape. I hope this diagram helps.

Now is a good time to modify the pattern to your liking. If you’d like a longer apron, just add some lengths to the side seams. If you’d like a wider apron, so it will wrap over your body for better coverage, just extend the armhole lines a bit on each side, to make the apron wider.

Next, you need to add seam allowances to the pattern. Add 1 3/8″ (3.5cm) to the top and bottom hems. Add 3/4″ (2cm) to the sides, and to the curved armhole hems. The drafting part is all finished now!

apron pattern making diagram 2 - adding seam allowance

With the draft pattern still folded in half, cut the pattern out along the seam allowance lines (but don’t cut along the folded center!) – so you’ll end up with one big apron pattern piece.

Finally, make a paper pattern for a rectangular pocket, too. Any size of your choosing is fine, but 13″ wide x 10″ high (33cm x 27cm) is a good size that includes seam allowances.

Step 2: Cut the fabric and cotton tapes.

Now that you have the pattern, the rest is easy! Choose any medium to heavy-weight woven fabric for the apron, such as canvas or home decor / interior fabric. Linen or linen blend fabric will make a particularly lovely apron. Quilting cotton is not recommended, because it is too lightweight. Prewash and press the fabric well.

Pin the apron pattern over the fabric, and cut along the pattern.

apron making - cutting fabric from a pattern

It’ll be most accurate if you first mark the outline of the pattern onto the fabric with a pen and a ruler, and then cut along the marked lines. But for things like an apron, there is little harm done if you choose to just pin the pattern onto the fabric and cut the fabric along the pattern.

apron making - cutting fabric from a pattern

Cut the pocket piece, too.

Cut two lengths of lightweight cotton tape (about 1″ or 2.5cm wide) for the neck tie (one for each side, to be tied together at the desired length by the wearer), and two lengths for the waist ties. Again, any length you like is fine. My suggested lengths for a thin-to-average sized woman is 21″ (55cm) each for the neck ties, and 35″ (90cm) each for the waist ties.

You can buy lightweight cotton tape in bulk quite cheaply online. Try searching on eBay or Etsy, for example. I use them for a lot of things, from lunch bag handles to bunting making.

rolls of white cotton tapes

Step 3: Make the pocket and attach it.

Fold over the top edge of the pocket at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again to make a double-fold hem. Stitch along this folded edge. Fold the sides and bottom edges of the pocket at about 3/8″ (1cm), and press well. apron making - making the pocket

Pin the pocket to the middle of the apron.

apron making - pinning the pocket

Stitch around the sides and bottom of the pocket onto the apron, stitching close to the edge (about 1/12″ or 2mm from the edge). Then stitch around the sides and bottom again, at about 1/2″ (1.3cm) from the edge. This second round of stitching (1) makes the pocket more securely attached to the apron body, and (2) conceal the raw cut edges of the pocket inside the double stitching. So if you look inside the pocket, it’ll be nice and clean.

Step 4: Sew the curved armholes.

Fold over the raw edge of a curved armhole in, at 3/8″ (1cm). Press. Then fold it again at 3/8″ (1cm), to make a double-folded hem. Press. 

apron making - folding side armholes

Sitch along the fold. Repeat for the other side.

Step 5: Sew the top hem.

Fold the top hem over at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again at about 1″ (2.5cm) to create a double-folded hem. Press well. Insert a piece of cotton tape (for the neck tie) into this fold, close to each end of the hem. Pin.

apron making - inserting cotton tape at top hem

apron-making - top hemStitch along this top hem, close to the folded edge. Your stitching will attach the cotton tapes to the apron at the same time, with the cut edge nicely concealed inside the folded hem.

Now fold each cotton tape over towards the top (so the ties will face upwards towards your neck, not droop downward toward your feet), and pin. Topstitch along the very top of the apron, stitching over the cotton tapes along the way.

apron making - topstitching the top hem

Step 6: Sew the sides.

Fold over a straight side hem at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again at 3/8″ (1cm) to create a double-folded hem. Press well.

apron making - folding the side hems

Insert a piece of cotton tape (for the waist tie) into this fold, at the top of this hem, and pin.

apron making - side hems

Stitch along this side hem close to the folded edge like you just did with the top hem, stitching over the cotton tapes at the same time.

Now fold the cotton tape over to face outwards (so it’s ready to wrap around your waist). Stitch over the tape in this position (just over the tape bit; you don’t have to sew all the way along the side again) – try to stitch right over the previous stitch line, so you won’t see the second line of stitches from the right side of the apron.

Repeat for the other side.

Step 7: Sew the bottom hem.

Fold the bottom hem at about 3/8″ (1cm), and then fold it again at about 1″ (2.5cm) to create a double-folded hem. Press well. Stitch along this bottom hem, close to the folded edge.

Stem 8: Finish up.

Your apron is nearly ready! Try it on, and make sure the neck ties and the waist ties are the lengths you like. If they are too long, cut them shorter. (If they are too short… well there is nothing you can do now at this point, other than unpick the tapes and stitch longer ones on in their place.) If everything looks good, fold over the raw cut edge of each cotton tape piece twice, and stitch over the fold line to keep the tape ends from fraying.

All done now! Enjoy your new apron.  (This is my mother last year, wearing last year’s Mother’s Day present!)

apron modelled by my mother

 

Liberty Hello Kitty fabrics… and DIY covered button hair ties

I am not a huge Hello Kitty fan. I mean, I probably was when I was 8 or so, and all the little girls in Japan loved everything with Hello Kitty on it. I know the Cat has since become an international icon of cuteness, but I never quite understood why.

So when I first saw Hello Kitty fabrics from Liberty of London (was it a few years ago?) – I didn’t get it. To me, Liberty of London tana lawn meant top-quality, luxury fabric for grownups. These fabrics are super expensive, and frankly, just too good for children who’d smear spaghetti sauce on them. And Hello Kitty meant… well, “childish trinkets” comes to mind when I think of it. Liberty and Hello Kitty just didn’t seem to mix.

Until I saw this fabric.

Liberty Hello Kitty Art fabric

Wow! So beautiful and cheesy at the same time. The design is so clever in that, while the cats are everywhere, they are well-blended into the overall pattern – you probably wouldn’t even notice the cats when looking from a distance. Instead of being the main thing, Hello Kitty has become dots, flowers, and colors.

When I learned that these fabrics are only available for sale in Japan in limited quantities, I had to order some right away. Never mind the exorbitant price tag.

Hello Kitty Liberty fabrics

And these arrived yesterday. I love, love, love them. The silky quality of Liberty Tana Lawn fabric, combined with the detailed and crisp print, and the silly cuteness of colourful cats everywhere, is a winning combination – even for a grownup I might say.

Hello Kitty Liberty fabrics - selvedge

 

Here’s what the selvedge looks like: Printed in Japan, and for sale only in Japan. It’s not allowed to make products out of this fabric for sale.

Now the dilemma was, on one hand these fabrics were too precious to cut into. On the other hand, I was dying to play with the kitties because they were too darn cute. Hmm… The solution?

Hello Kitty Liberty covered button hair ties

Covered buttons of course! Made into girly hair ties! These were so easy and satisfying to make – and require only a tiny amount of fabric. Would you like to give it a try? Here’s what you need:

Materials needed for covered buttons

You can buy covered button sets from a craft shop, or online. They are pretty cheap in bulk and come in different sizes. Each set has a rounded, outer button and the backside panel. Make sure they come with the mould tool, or buy it separately. I bought mine here.

Step 1: Make a template with clear plastic so you can “fussy cut” the fabric. The button kits I had are about 1 1/8″ in diameter. The template should be a circle with about 2 1/8″ diameter. I marked the center of the template, so it’s easier to place a desired object – say, a Kitty face – right in the middle of the button.

Step 2: Place the template onto the right side of the fabric, and trace around it with a pen.

covered button DIY - cut fabric

Step 3: Cut the fabric.

covered button DIY - cut fabric

Step 4: Sandwich the fabric between the mould and the rounded outer button. Make sure the right side of the fabric is facing the mould side. Press the button into the mould.

covered button DIY - setting the button

 

If you have a clear mould, you can check from the other side if the pattern is placed where you want it. You also have to be a little careful with very lightweight fabric like Liberty tana lawn, because the fabric can get stretched out of shape — and the pretty face of the cat could be distorted. If you are not happy here, you can take the button out the mould and start again, till you get the result you want.

covered button DIY - place fabric on mould

Here the fabric is pushed all the way in.

 

covered button DIY - back of button

Step 5: Press the back of the button into the mould till it clicks in. I just use my fingers here, even though the mould comes with a little tool for pushing the back panel in (it’s the little round blue thing you see in the photo above).

 

Step 6: Pop the button out of the mould, and that’s it!

Step 7: Thread a narrow, commercial hair tie through the loop hole in the back of the button, and you just made the world’s prettiest hair tie for your little girl – or for yourself.

covered button DIY - threading hair elastic

You can also buy covered button kits with a flat back, without the loop hole. You can glue them onto DIY hair slides, or magnets, or little pegs… the possibilities are endless.

Pattern testing – insulated lunch bag

I’m so excited to announce that my first pattern and kits for insulated lunch bags are now finished and up for sale! Why am I now writing patterns, you ask? Well, I have always wondered if other crafters might enjoy making the zakka items I create, rather than having to buy the finished items from my shops. I also feel passionate about getting people to learn how to sew. So my hope was to write patterns that are detailed enough for beginners to follow, but are still interesting for more experienced crafters.

I’d love to tell you more about the pattern and the kits in another post, but first, I’d like to tell you about the five wonderful women who tested my lunch bag pattern and kits – Erika, Bec, Su, Kristy and Sarah. At first I was hoping to get two or three volunteer testers, but was thrilled to find five! And they’ve all done tremendous work getting the kits sewn up and giving me invaluable feedback.

Here’s the lunch bag Sarah made. She chose this “boy and ship” fabric that turned out to be quite cute for this bag.

Sarah's lunch bag - boy and ship

Kristy from Monkey Mai made this lunch bag with the red bird fabric. Beautiful job!

Kristy's lunch bag - red linen birds

I was lucky to have two other professional crafters to test out my kits and pattern. Bec from Little Toot Creations is an experienced dressmaker. Isn’t her grey bird lunch bag beautiful?

Bec's lunch bag - grey linen bird

Su, another experienced dressmaker from Alice Loves Handmade, chose this pink elephant fabric for her daughter. It turned out so pretty and girly. I’m also pleased that most of my testers were able to make the lunch bags without having to print out the 20-odd-page instruction. You can see how nice the pattern looks on Su’s iPad in the photo. But more about the pattern itself later.

Su's lunch bag - Pink elephant with iPad

Last but not the least, Erika helped me out all the way from Vermont, US. She’s an avid crafter, and was the one who initially encouraged me to write patterns. She made not one but two lunch bags using her own fabrics – because sending kit materials to the US would take so long. I love both her bags! She made her own handles, too, which add a lot to the design, don’t you think?

Erika's lunch bag - Hello KittyErika's princess lunch bag

I really enjoyed working with all the pattern testers, and feel that they are now part of my team. It gets lonely sometimes working alone in my studio at home. So even though I have never met any of the testers personally or even spoken to them on the phone, it’s been wonderful to have this teamwork experience by email. It just shows how generous and supportive this crafting community is. Thanks a million for your help, and I look forward to working with you again in the future!

Tutorial: drawstring tote bag

 

We made drawstring tote bags this week at our fourth zakka sewing class.  What is a drawstring tote bag?  Well, as the name would imply, it is a tote bag with a drawstring closure.  A picture below will say it all.  These hybrid bags appear in many Japanese craft books as children’s lunch bags, etc.

photo of a finished drawstring tote bag

This tutorial will make a fully lined tote bag in the above photo, about 8″ wide, 9″ tall, and 3.5″ deep.  A little bigger than a child’s lunch bag, but it’s a versatile size for either a child or an adult.  Of course you can modify the size to your liking.

What you need:

  • 1/2 yard of fabric for the bag body – canvas, denim, interior fabric, or other sturdy fabric is recommended.
  • 1/2 yard of fabric for the lining and the drawstring top – any lightweight woven fabric, like quilting cotton, will do.
  • 1 yard of cotton webbing for the bag handles (or you can make your own).
  • About 1.5 yard of plaited cord, ribbon, or any other material for the drawstring.

Step 1: Cut all the fabric pieces

  • Main bag body: (13″ x 12″) x 2 pieces
  • Lining: (13″ x 12″) x 2 pieces
  • Drawstring top: (13″ x 6″) x 2 pieces
  • 2 x cotton webbing in the desired handle length (plus 1″ for seam allowance)

photo of all the cut pieces for drawstring tote bag

Step 2: Prepare the drawstring top

(1) Overlock or zig zag stitch the sides of each piece (just the two sides; you don’t have to overlock the top and bottom edges)

photo showing overlocking or zig zag finishing the sides of thedrawstring top

(2) Mark with a pencil at 2.5″ from the top, on each side.  Sew the two drawstring top pieces together on each side, starting at the marked points and all the way down (again, just the side seams – don’t sew the bottom seam together). Sew at 1/2″ seam allowance.

photo showing how to sew the side seam of a drawstring top

(3) Press the side seams open, and from the wrong side, sew all the way around the open top sides.  Like this:

photo showing how to sew the top side seams of a drawstring top

(4) Fold the top seams over twice, making sure you leave enough space inside to thread your drawstring cord.  Stitch very close to the folded edge.

photo showing how to sew the top of drawstring bag

Step 3: Prepare the bag body and the lining

(1) With the right side of fabric pieces together, sew all the way around the three sides of the main bag body, at 1/2″ seam allowance.  Repeat for the lining – except leave about 4″ of seam unsewn (so you can turn the bag inside out later on).  I tend to leave this opening in the middle of a side seam.  But it doesn’t matter where really, as long as the opening ins’t too close to the corners.

Photo showing how to sew the sides and bottom seams of the bag and lining

(2) Cut the corners off and sew the gussets.

Mark about a 1.5″ square on the bottom corners of the main bag and the lining.  I measure this length not from the edge of the fabric, but from the sewn line.  Cut the squares off.

a photo of fabric with corners cut off for gussets

Tease each corner open, and sew at 3/8″ seam allowance.  Repeat for the remaining corners.

a photo showing how to sew a gusset

Step 4: Assemble all the pieces together

(1) Mark where you want to attach the bag handles, and sew them on to the top of the body, at about 1/4″ from the top, to the right side of the bag body.  Make sure the handles are attached in the inverse position, with the handles facing south.

photo showing how to baste handles on a bag body

(2) Layer the drawstring top over the main bag body, at the top, with the right sides of the fabrics facing together.  Make sure the finished edge of the drawstring flap (the part where you thread the cord) is facing south.

(3) Now, layer the lining over the drawstring top, with the right side of the lining facing the wrong side of the drawstring flap.  Basically, you are layering all three pieces together, with the drawstring top sandwiched in between the main bag and lining.  I hope it makes sense.

photo showing how to assemble three layers of bag parts together

(4) Pin the three layers together at the side seams, making sure all the three side seams are matching up.

(5) Sew the three layers together, all the way around the bag, at about 1/2″ from the raw edge.  If you sew slowly, while gently pulling the fabrics towards you as you sew, everything should match up more easily.  Press the seam (it’s always a good idea to press over a sewn seam for a cleaner finish).

Step 5: Finishing up

You are nearly done!

(1) Turn the bag inside out from the opening in the lining.  Press the top seam open.

(2) Tuck the lining and the drawstring top inside the main bag, and press the top seam again.

(3) Top stitch all the way around the top edge of the bag (very close to the edge, at about 1/8″ from the top).

photo showing the topstitching at the top of the bag

(4) If everything looks good, sew the opening in the lining shut.  Being lazy, I always use a sewing machine, but blind stitching by hand will make a more beautiful finish.

(5) Thread your drawstring cords at desired length.  A bodkin will come in very handy if you have one.  If not, a safety pin will do.

 

And that’s it!  Yay!  If you don’t want to use the drawstring closure, just tuck the flap inside, and you can use it as a regular tote bag.

photo showing the inside of a finished drawstring tote bag

And if you were looking to make a lined tote bag without the drawstring closure, just omit making the drawstring top from this tutorial.  You might want to attach a set of magnetic buttons to the lining though.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Links for tote bag tutorials

 

I apologize for being so tardy in posting.  No excuses but my own laziness, really.  But I found, as I suspected, that there are many excellent free tutorials online on tote bags.  So there is no need to reinvent the wheels.  [note: having said that, I did write a detailed tutorial for a drawstring tote bag.  You can follow this to make a regular lined tote bag, too. Just omit making the drawstring top and add a set of magnetic buttons to the lining.]

(1) Patchwork tote bag with gusset tutorial:  

Aside from the patchwork and quilting details, this is how we made the tote bag in our sewing class.  I love how clear the instructions are in this tutorial.  I also like inserting a layer of quilt wadding in a tote bag, because it gives such a lovely cushiness and structure to a bag.  But of course you can just use normal iron-on interfacing instead.

A couple of other tote bag tutorials use different construction methods.

(2) For a very quick and easy tote bag without a lining, here’s a nice tutorial on Purlbee.com:  

(3) Another excellent tote bag tutorial from Purl Bee: an oil cloth tote with a circular bottom (not a gusset). 

Whichever method you use, the key to a successful tote bag is the fabric choice.  You would want to use heavier fabric like denim, canvas, and home decor fabric. Quilting-weight cotton is a good choice as a lining, but not really suitable for the bag body, because it is too lightweight. 

Happy bag making!

 

 

Tutorial – Three ways to appliqué

 

I feel funny writing a tutorial on appliqué, because I don’t do it very often.  But appliqué is such a useful and fun technique in zakka sewing that I just have to mention it. In many ways appliqué is more accessible than patchwork, and with nothing more than a bit of scrap fabric, you can transform a potholder from plain to spectacular in no time at all.

Here are three simple ways to do an appliqué. 

(1) Use a bias tape

If you are new to appliqué and want a quick result, playing around with strips of bias tape is a lot of fun. You can buy pretty pre-made bias tapes in craft shops (or better yet, look for lovely handmade ones on Etsy), or you can make your own.  Remember how to make the hanging tab for a potholder? That’s a bias tape right there (well, before you folded it in half just before stitching).  

Bias tapes are even easier to make with bias tape makers – they come in different sizes to make different widths.

(a) Make strips of bias tape (or use bought ones).

(b) Arrange them on the base fabric (cut already to a potholder size).  Pin, and machine stitch at both sides.

Or you can use a fusible webbing tape (as you see in the photo – you can buy it in a large craft shop) and glue the bias tapes onto the base fabric instead of pinning. More on fusible web below.

 

(2) Use a fusible web for free-form appliqué

You can buy fusible web at most craft stores.  They come in little packets or they might sell it by the meter. It’s about AU$13 a meter – but you don’t need a lot of it. It’s just a very thin sheet (web) of dried glue, backed with paper on one side.  

(a) You cut a little piece of fusible web, iron it on a piece of fabric (with the paper side up), and draw shapes on the paper.  

(b) Cut the shapes out with scissors.  Peel the paper away.  Lay the pieces out on the base fabric, already cut to be a potholder.  Make sure the glue side is facing down, or the fabric will stick to your iron.

(c) When you are happy with the arrangement, press the pieces with hot iron so they stick to the base fabric.

(d) Because the glue might come detached, it’s better to stitch over them. You can do a mini zig zag stitch around the edges for a very secure stitching.  I found this too tedious for a potholder here, so I just did a basic running stitch by hand, for a simple embroidery effect.

That’s it! Proceed to make a potholder (or something else) like you normally would.  

Be warned, though.  Fusible web might cause appliqué addiction. Because you can arrange and re-arrange the pieces till you get the picture just right, before sewing them in, it’s easy to get a good result without too much advance planning like with patchwork. 

(3) Turn corners neatly with iron-on interfacing

You can also do an appliqué the old-fashioned way: (a) cut a simple shape, (b) turn the cut edges inside, and (c) stitching it on (by hand with a blind stitch or sewing along the edges with a machine).

Turning the edges in sounds simpler than it is. It’s hard to get nice clean outlines.  But there is an easier way using a lightweight iron-on interfacing – which you can buy very cheaply at any fabric shop.

(a) Cut out the appliqué shape.  (I’m using a little square of patchworked piece I found in my sewing room here.)  Cut out the interfacing in roughly the same shape.

(b) With the glue side of the interfacing and the right side of the fabric together, saw about 1/4″ around all the outer edges. 

(c) cut a little hole in the middle of the interfacing, and turn the piece inside out.

 

(d) finger press around the edges to make a nice shape.  Place the piece on a base fabric and apply iron to glue the piece on temporarily.

 

(e) Blind stitch by hand around the edges, or machine stitch to secure it.

That’s it! This method works pretty well with circles as well. 

Oh, the orange flower appliqué I did above? I thought it looked too nice for another potholder, so I made a shoulder bag for Miss M with it. Which, by the way, is what we’ll be making next week at our second zakka sewing group.

 

 

 

Tutorial: Potholder variation 1 – simple patchwork

 

 

I have this gorgeous cookbook called Simple to Spectacular, by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  What I love about this book is its organisation.  For each section, there is one easy, basic recipe.  And then the book offers several variations based on the basic recipe, making it progressively more involved, interesting, and luxurious.  For example, there is a recipe for a simple boiled egg, and the luxury version has a sauce with caviars that makes the dish restaurant quality.  I love this concept, because this book shows you the very process of cooking – learning to cook is all about coming up with variations yourself, not blindly following a recipe every time you cook.  The books shows you how to think like a chef.  

So I thought of this book when I thought of starting a free sewing class.  Instead of showing people how to blindly follow a sewing pattern, wouldn’t it be great if I could inspire them to come up with their own variations on a basic pattern?  You just have to learn to think like a crafter. 

Okay, so back to potholders. How do you make a potholder go from simple to spectacular?  Some techniques include patchwork, quilting, and appliqué.  In this post, I’ll just demonstrate the very basics of patchwork.  There are hundreds of books on patchwork out there, with more tutorials on the internet than you can ever use.

Two-Patch Patchwork Potholders

Step 1: Prewash the fabrics:

If you are using different types of materials for one potholder (like linen and cotton canvas), it is best to prewash all fabrics before cutting them.  Each fabric may shrink at a different rate, so if you don’t prewash, chances are you’ll end up with a wobbly, uneven potholder when you wash it once.  Just wash the fabrics with or without a bit of soap in the washing machine, and press it flat with an iron when it is about 90% dried.  Prewashing is also a good idea when you are using brightly coloured fabrics, to be combined with white or cream coloured fabric.  You don’t want the bright colors to come off and stain the white fabric after the potholder is finished… 

Step 2: Make a pattern (or not) and cut the patchwork pieces

You can make a pattern for each piece, or do without a pattern.  

(a)  How to make a paper pattern

(1) Copy the potholder pattern (say, 8 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ including a 3/8″ seam allowance around the square – see my previous tutorial) on a piece of paper.  

(2) Draw a line where you want the patchwork piecing to happen.  For each piece, copy the shape, and add 1/4″ seam allowance where the two pieces will be sewn together.  (See picture below).  That’s it! Cut the two pattern pieces out.

 (b) Two-patch without a paper pattern

If you have a rotary cutter / mat / quilting ruler setup, calculating the size for each patchwork piece and cutting it is simple.  Even if you don’t have the setup, here’s one fun way of making a two-patch with no pattern.  

For each fabric you want to use, cut one shape 8 1/2″ x 9″.  So you have two pieces of fabric of different patterns.  Stack them together neatly.  Along the 9″ side, draw a vertical line where you want the piecing to happen, and cut along the line, with the two pieces of fabric together.  Switch one piece from fabric 1, with the same-shaped piece from fabric 2 — and patch them together.  Repeat for the backside of the potholder.  That’s it – you should have two pieces of two-patch squares at 8 1/2″ square.

If you can do this for a two patch, three-patch is just as easy, using the same concept.  If you want to use more patchwork pieces and don’t have the patience to work out a pattern first (like me), just roughly cut each piece, start piecing them together, and in the end trim the whole thing down to 81/2″ square.  

Step 3: Sew the two pieces together

(1) Lay out the fabric pieces in the finished position.  (See photo below at the top right.)

(2) Where the pieces will be sewn together, stack the pieces together, with the right sides of the fabrics inside.  Pin.  (See photo below at the top right.)

(3) Sew the two pieces together at about 1/4″ from the raw edges of the pieces.  (See photo below at bottom left)

(4) Press both seams to one side. (See photo below at bottom right).  

You are done! Make the potholder, following Step 2 of the tutorial onwards.  When you are quilting over the whole thing at the very end, you should quilt just near the patchworke seam.  It looks good that way, and it makes the joined seam more durable.

 

Spectacular potholders?

Patchwork variations are endless, so it’s up to you to come up with a spectacular creation!  I made this nine-patch potholder (I actually made a pattern for this) just to give you an idea.

Next week, I’ll write about appliqués.  

But I’d LOVE you to go make a patchwork potholder now.  And please take a photo of your spectacular creation, and post it to our Flickr group called “Zakka Sewing with Piggledee” here.  

 

Potholder Tutorial – Basic Method

 

Today was our first day of zakka sewing class at my home, and it was so. much. fun.  I had fretted over how to teach three sewing beginners, but I needn’t have worried.  They were all such quick learners, and completed their lovely potholders well within the two-hour time frame.  And it didn’t hurt to have two other friends / helpers who were experienced sewers helping me out.  Thank you guys! 

So for those of you who would liked sew along with our little group in Sydney, here’s a tutorial for what we did today.  

Materials you need:

  • About 1/4 meter of medium-weight woven fabric (canvas or home dec weight)
  • A small piece of quilt wadding 
Step 1: Make a paper pattern and cut the pieces
If you have a rotary cutter and a mat, you don’t need a paper pattern.  Go ahead and cut TWO pieces of the pretty fabric, each at about 8 1/2 inches x 8 1/2 inches and ONE piece of wadding in the same size (I know, we live in metric Australia, but in the quilting world we still use imperial measurement, so I’m using inches here as well).
If you don’t have a rotary cutter, it helps to make a paper pattern first.  Here’s the easiest way — Take any A4-sized paper, and fold it over in a large triangle snap, matching the left short side onto the top long side.  Like this.  
Draw a line along the folded edge.  Cut along the line to make a square shape about 8 1/4″ x 8 1/4″.  Place the pattern over your fabric and wadding, trace around the pattern with a pen or pencil, and cut.  You now have three pieces of fabric and wadding in the same size.  For the hanging tab, cut another small piece of fabric, about 4″ x 1.5″.

Step 2: Make the hanging tab and baste it
Fold the tab into half along the long side and press with an iron.  Unfold, and fold each edge again towards the centre fold line.  Press.  Fold the whole thing over again, so you have a long, narrow strip of fabric with four layers of fabric folded in.  A picture is worth a thousand words.
Sew the folded tab together, very close to the open edge.  
Instead of making a tab like this, you can use any cotton tape, ready-made bias tape, a piece of ribbon, yarn, or anything similar in shape.  Now sew the tab onto a corner of one potholder fabric, about 1/4″ from the edge of the fabric, like this:
Make sure you sew over the tab back and forth a few times to ensure it’s securely attached.
Step 3: Stack the three potholder pieces and pin
Neatly stack the three pieces you’ve cut on top of each other in the following order, from the top: (1) fabric piece 1, with the wrong side showing on top; (2) fabric piece 2, with the right side showing on top; and (3) wadding.  Secure the three layers together with pins.
 
Step 4: Sew around the edges, leaving an opening for turning
You want to start sewing about 2/3 of a way along one side, at about 3/8″ from the edge of the fabric (or 1cm seam allowance).  Sew all the way around the square, and finish sewing about 1/3 of a way along the first side — like this drawing below.  You want to leave about 2.5″ of a seam unsewn, so that you can turn the potholder inside out.
Step 5: Turn the layers inside out and press
Through the open seam, turn the potholder inside out – so the wadding stays in the middle.  Make sure the corners are nicely shaped (use a pin or a chopstick to make a nice-looking corner).  Press into shape.  Now fold the raw edges along the turning opening inwards in the finished position, and press.  
Step 6 (nearly finished!):  Topstitch over the open seam and around the entire potholder
It is only slightly tricky.  You want to topstitch over the open seam pretty close to the edge, about 1/8″ from the edge, so the opening is actually sewn shut.  Then continue topstitching around the rest of the potholder.
Ta-da! All finished!
Step 7 (optional): Machine quilt over the finished potholder
Actually, there is one more fun optional step. Using a fairly large stitch length (around 3.5 to 4), sew over the potholder, freestyle, in any pattern you like. A few straight lines are cool.  Or you can do diagonal lines, or any combination.  It would give the potholder a lovely puffy, quilted look.  The stitching would secure the wadding inside as well.
Now that you can make a basic potholder, you can make a lot of other things using the same technique.  I will post more on variations and modifications soon.  

Tutorial – Make your own lunch bag (or two)

Of all the things I have made for my shops, backpack lunch bags are probable the most popular – and no wonder, they are very useful.  In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make one yourself.  All you need is:

  • a sewing machine
  • an iron
  • a pair of scissors, or even better, a rotary cutter and a cutting mat (which I’ll use here).
  • 1/2 yard or meter of fabric (you’ll have some left over) – I use canvas because it’s sturdy, but you can use quilting cotton, linen, or any woven fabric.
  • 2 x 37.5″ (95cm) of plaited cords – or ribbon or any sturdy string-like material, and
  • less than one hour of your time

Ready? Here we go!

Step 1: Cut the fabric

Cut 2 pieces of fabric, 11″ x 11″ (43.5cm).  You can make it larger or smaller if you like, but this is the size I normally use.  It’s easy to cut the pieces accurately if you cut two layers of fabric at the same time, using a rotary cutter and a mat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often make two bags at a time, because you can get 4 11″ x 11″ pieces from one 11″ strip (using a 44″ wide fabric), and two bags come together very quickly if you make them at the same time.  Plus, it’s good to have two — you’ll have a spare when one is in the wash.

Step 2: Overlock or zig-zag the 3 edges

For each piece of cut fabric, zig zag stitch around the two sides and bottom of the fabric (you don’t have to do the top edge) to prevent fraying.  I use my overlocker here, but a zig zag stitch will do just fine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3: Sew the outline of the bag

Put the two pieces of fabric neatly together, with the printed side facing inside.  Measure 2 1/4″ (5.7 cm) distance from the top edge, and on the right edge, mark the spot using a fabric marker or pencil.  Do the same for the left edge.  The marks won’t show when the bag is finished if you mark just a tiny bit.  This is just so you know where to start and stop sewing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, make sure the two pieces are exactly laying on top of the other, and are you ready to start sewing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sew the sides with a 1/2″ (1.3cm) seam allowance, at the point where the mark is (2 1/4″ from the top).  It’s important not to skimp on the seam allowance here.  Sew around the three sides of the bag, pivoting at the corners, and stopping where you find the other marked spot.  Make sure you back-tack a few times at the start and end of this seam, to keep the bag from falling apart with repeated use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you see, I don’t use pins.  Pins are unnecessary for little things like this and they only cause trouble.  The trick is, you first anchor the needle down at the start of sewing and do the back-tack.  And then you hold the two layers of fabric at the end of the seam together, holding them so they match up.  Now gently pull the fabric towards you till the pieces are straight.  Then sew down the seam, while holding down the end of the fabrics together.

Step 4: Sew the top side seams

Now you have the three sides sewn together, with the top 2 1/4 inches left unsewn.  Press the side seams open, all the way to the top of the bag.  Like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then sew around the open edge at about 1/4″ (6mm) from the edges – like you’d sew a  slit opening on a garment:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you see that at the short bottom seam, I sewed back and forward a couple of times to create a very strong seam?

Step 5: Finish the top of the bag

Fold and press a top raw edge of the bag about 3/8″ (1 cm) inward, then fold and press again at about 1″ (2.5cm).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then sew along the edge – as close to the edge as you can.  Repeat for the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, no pins.  But please make sure you really match up the end of the seam so it looks nice and clean when finished.  Most natural woven fabrics have a little “give” or stretch, so sewing while gently stretching the fabrics works really well.

Now at this point, if you turn the fabric the right side out…. you have a simple drawstring bag done already! Well, all you need is to thread a cord. Yay! But not very long to go for a completed lunch bag, either, so hang in there.

Step 6: Thread the cords and prepare the gussets

At the bottom corners of the bag, mark little 1.5″ (3.8 cm) squares with a pen or pencil.  It’s 1.5″ from the sewn lines – not the edge of the fabric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can use a ruler each time, but if you are making multiple bags, it’s handy to have a little paper template here.  Then cut along the marking.

Your bag will look like the photo below.  Now prepare the two cords.  If you’ve followed the sizes I’ve mentioned precisely, you’ll need 2 cords each about 37.5″ (95cm) long.  Otherwise, lay a doubled-up cord like this – a little longer than the edge of the gusset square – to measure how much you need.  You’ll need two of these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thread the cords using a bodkin (a cheep and very handy thing to have, but you can use a safety pin if you don’t have a bodkin).   Here are my bags all threaded:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 7: Sew the gussets

You are almost finished! Now, for each side, bring the two cord ends from the inside of the bag (the printed side), along the side seam, through the cut gusset opening.  Tease the gusset edges open to form a straight sewing seam, and position the cord ends win the middle of the seam, like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one place you might want to use pins – use a pin for each cord end to secure it in the right position.  Then, with about 3/8″ seam allowance, sew the gusset seam – making sure you sew over the two cord ends a couple of times, back and forth, to make a very secure seam.  Repeat for the other gusset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trim the end cord bits sticking out, and overlock or zig zag finish the seams.  And that’s it! Your bag is finished.  Yay!

The gusset looks like this from the right side:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, if you’ve been making two bags at the same time, you’d be rewarded with not one but two pretty lunch bags. Very satisfying!